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Poetry for an elegiac season

fall-benches

Autumn in New England, of course, is spectacular, but it also brings a sense of loss and drawing in, as days shorten, we finally turn the heat on, and batten down the house for winter. We resurrect our jackets, gloves and flannel sheets. The garden slowly dies.

Here is one of my favorite poems about fall, bittersweet like the season. I chose this for my mother’s memorial service program in June; she liked the poem.  Our mutual love of poetry (and reading) was one of our strongest bonds.

from “Autumn Sonnets” by May Sarton

If I can let you go as trees let go
Their leaves, so casually, one by one;
If I can come to know what they do know,
That fall is the release, the consummation,
Then fear of time and the uncertain fruit
Would not distemper the great lucid skies
This strangest autumn, mellow and acute.
If I can take the dark with open eyes
And call it seasonal, not harsh or strange
(For love itself may need a time of sleep),
And, treelike, stand unmoved before the change,
Lose what I lose to keep what I can keep,
The strong root still alive under the snow,
Love will endure – if I can let you go.

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Literary lights in Ireland

oscar-wilde-statue-merrion-square-dublin

I recently returned from a week in Ireland, mostly in Dublin – my first visit. One of the many things I love about Dublin is its very public homage to literary figures — Wilde, Joyce, Yeats, Behan and many more. I went on a literary pub crawl one night, a tourist-y but worthwhile event in which a small group went from pub to pub, led by two gifted professional actors who performed choice bits from the writings of Wilde, Beckett, Behan, Joyce and Eavan Boland. (The only other place I’ve been that honors writers so openly is Russia, where statues of writers abound in Moscow and St. Petersburg.) Dublin is large enough to be sophisticated and diverse, but not big enough to be intimidating, and I found Dubliners to be unfailingly polite, friendly and helpful, despite being overrun by 7 million tourists a year. A different facet of the city is that the dark side of the history of Ireland, its famines and oppression, is not forgotten in the midst of modernity. In Dublin Castle I stood in the room where James Connolly, commandant of the Dublin Brigade in the Easter 1916 uprising against the British, was brought to lie badly wounded, with a bullet in his leg. Soon after, he was carried on a stretcher to Kilmainham Gaol courtyard, tied to a chair and executed by firing squad. He was 47. John Lennon said that his song “Woman Is The Nigger of the World” was inspired by Connolly’s quotation “The female is the slave of the slave.”
Above is the famous, somewhat peculiar statue of Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square, Dublin.

Here is a poem by Eavan Boland.

WITNESS

Here is the city —
its worn-down mountains,
its grass and iron,
its smoky coast
seen from the high roads
on the Wicklow side.

From Dalkey Island
to the North Wall,
to the blue distance seizing its perimeter,
its old divisions are deep within it.

And in me also.
And always will be.

Out of my mouth they come:
The spurred and booted garrisons.
The men and women
they dispossessed.

What is a colony
if not the brutal truth
that when we speak
the graves open.

And the dead walk?

 

William Maxwell – marvelous editor and writer

Wm Maxwell

Today I’d like to recommend a wonderful writer, William Keepers Maxwell, (1908-2000) whose work I have been immersed in. I knew he was a distinguished editor; he was at The New Yorker from 1936 to 1975, and was the editor of such luminaries as Salinger, John Cheever, Frank O’Connor and Eudora Welty. He was a quiet man who did little to promote himself or his own work. He cared about editing in an old-fashioned way and practiced it with dedication. I recently read a big volume of his early novels and stories (published by Library of America), which is excellent. At his best, I think he is as good as Cheever, which is high praise. One of Maxwell’s better known stories that was published in the New Yorker is “The Thistles in Sweden,” a masterpiece. He is very good at elegiac descriptions of the past and evocations of worlds that don’t exist any more, such as France shortly after World War II. His humor is dry and his observations of people are fascinating. Maxwell’s literary reputation has apparently grown since his death. I highly recommend his stories and novels to you. Benjamin Cheever said of Maxwell’s carefully crafted prose, “…it can be read like poetry.”

Publishing poetry – a privilege

books cat tapestry

I’ve been publishing poetry books since 2003 – 91 of them, including many anthologies. I hope to keep doing it for a long time. I feel sure that I will never run out of excellent poetry manuscripts to turn into books. There are so few outlets for poetry if you don’t get accepted by an academic press or go the self-publishing route. I turn down at least ten manuscripts for each one I accept. They continue to pour in via email and “over the transom”, as the publishers used to say, in snail mail. I love the book design part of the job, too. (Note: please email me before sending an unsolicited manuscript.) In a good year, I publish six books and break even without personally subsidizing the business. If you care about poetry, you can help by buying Moon Pie Press books either from the website or from poets at readings. Come to readings. Support poets. Give their books as gifts.

Here is a short poem by Andrew Periale of New Hampshire, from his 2016 calendar A Woodland Sketchbook, featuring art by his wife Bonnie Periale.

Broad-Winged Hawk

He kills without remorse
And much of what he eats is garden pests.
Raccoons and bears will raid his nests,
So nature strikes a balance in due course.
He flies four thousand miles to breeding range.
Monogamous, he finds himself a mate
and then with up to four eggs they are blest.
This compact hawk is territorial,
long-lived, diurnal, predatorial
and glides on currents like a swift corsair.
A monarch of the northern boreal,
its voice a shrill slice in the sylvan air.

The importance of poetry, and truth

owl and fall foliage

My poet and musician friend Dave Morrison of Camden, Maine recently published a book of poems about his battle with cancer. I was happy to write a blurb for it because I am a big fan of his work. He is honest, never pretentious or opaque and manages to find humor in the most unlikely situations. To me telling the truth in poetry is all-important, as it almost always is in life. If I can’t ascertain truth in a poem, it does nothing for me. So that means that clever word play or beautiful images are not enough, except perhaps in ancient forms like haiku. (What one likes in poetry is subjective, of course. My own taste leans toward narrative poems, “accessible” (meaning understandable) poems, and poems that are not afraid to be humorous. This is not to say that I don’t appreciate other kinds of poetry, too.)  Campbell McGrath puts it so well: “That’s all we have in poetry land: the truth. We are not well paid, and we are not respected in our land or time, but we can tell the truth. We don’t have to accede to the hypocrisies and half-truths that surround us. We are not driven by a market economy whose rewards bend and corrupt us. That’s a great gift and worth the economic tradeoff.” I try to keep that in mind as I struggle to keep my small poetry press afloat. Dear friends, consider buying poetry books for holiday presents this year; support some poets and help spread some truth.

The year turns again to autumn

This is a tree in my neighborhood in Maine.  It’s a cliché but a true one that most of us feel lucky to live in New England this time of year.  The “FOILAGE”, as I heard someone say on the radio, is spectacular.  One’s thoughts turn to cooking, comfort food, approaching holidays, wearing fleece and putting the flannel sheets on the bed.  And, of course, reading and other indoor activities.  I read a wonderful book recently, ON THE MOVE, Dr. Oliver Sacks’ memoir.  What an extraordinary man, multi-talented and in love with language.  I had read some of his books about neurological patients and they were very good, but the memoir is even more fascinating, and I recommend it highly to you.  neighbor tree October

Finally – spring in New England, and National Poetry Month

daffodils_04

April is always full of poetry events. This year is no exception. I try to list all the ones involving Moon Pie Press poets on the website at http://www.moonpiepress.com. Here is a lovely poem about what sustains some of us through a long winter. It is by former Portland Poet Laureate Bruce Spang, whose latest book from Moon Pie Press is BOY AT THE SCREEN DOOR.

THE COLOR OF FAITH

Minus fifteen degrees, even the thermometer on the deck
recoils under its lid. Like a man with a Bible in a bombed out building,

I unearth a Johnny’s Selected Seed catalog
in the mail. Fields of Allstar Gourmet Lettuce,

mottled rows of purple and green, spread
beneath bare feet of a girl who slices one head

after another like the Queen in Wonderland.
I twist the space heater dial to high and flip

to Amaranthus, with its ropes of deep red,
fold the page; find a new Echinacea, Pallida

with long slender purple petals, fold it.
Colors splash on my lap, yellow tomatoes,

blue aster, pink poppies, and on page
sixty-eight, skins of peppers glistening

as brightly as the snow did this afternoon,
yet sliced open like hearts. Look, there is

Joe Pye Weed that releases a vanilla scent.
Smell it. Write it. Fill in the order form.